© 2014 Gary Fearon
The action-packed opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark shows Indiana Jones performing a number of death-defying feats while he acquires a historic artifact. Circumventing traps, boulders, and savages, he finally escapes via plane. Once he’s safely in the air, there’s a comedic moment when he finds a snake in the plane, much to his horror. After his enormous exhibition of derring-do, we’re amused when he declares, “I hate snakes!”
This light-hearted moment not only lifts the edge-of-your-seat tension of the preceding few minutes but also provides subtle exposition that we will remember much later in the story. When Indy enters another trap-filled treasure room, this overflowing with hundreds of asps, we know what he is thinking even before he asks, “Why did it have to be snakes?” We are innately aware of the increased personal challenge Indy faces because we’ve already been given a glimpse of it.
Effective foreshadowing lets the audience in on a secret of sorts, a bit of privileged information that will come in handy later. The importance may not be obvious initially, but when it finally comes to fruition, the resulting scene has more depth.
If you’ve seen The Karate Kid, you’ll remember Ralph Macchio’s character learning to do the “crane kick” while balancing himself on a beach post. Distracted perhaps by the seagulls, we may not have recognized that this move would play a crucial role in the final confrontation much later. But when Daniel-san does pull out that special move, there is extra victory in it for us, knowing that we were there when he learned it.
Foreshadowing isn’t limited to predicting major events. When we first see Belle in Beauty and The Beast, she is heading to a bookstore, and we simply learn that she loves to read. Later, when she explores the beast’s castle, we understand the wonder in her eyes when she discovers his vast library. And when she reads to him from those books, there is a nice full-circle element afoot that enhances the bond we see developing.
Whether disguised as comic relief or a subtle character trait, a premonition of what’s to come can provide a thrilling moment of revelation later. The more gracefully we can weave foreshadowing into our story, the greater the element of surprise when it becomes a significant plot point.
Gary Fearon is Creative Director for Southern Writers Magazine. A veteran broadcaster, he is also a songwriter, musician, and broadcast producer. Gary’s website,Musing & Lyrics, contemplates the creative process.